Want to get more out of your travel? Whether you’re planning your first big overseas trip or have plenty of travel under your belt, there is always something to learn.
In this short series you’ll get tips and perspectives to help make the most from your next holiday. As this probably isn’t the first travel advice you’ve read, I’ve selected just sixteen tips that aren’t covered well elsewhere.
- Before You Go
- Border Crossings: Two Ways to Fail
- At Your Destination
- Psychology of Travel: 3 Reality Checks to Remember
Travel Tips #1: Before you go
How long should I go for?
Naturally this depends on many things, but for a shortish trip I’ve settled on three weeks.
I find that three weeks is long enough to get into the rhythm of travelling. Your home life ebbs away and you get that great feeling of being on an adventure somewhere far away. You’ll have time for decent visits of at least a few different regions or countries. It gives a good return on the fixed costs of heading away. Much of the financial cost (airfare, vaccinations, visas, airport transfers) are the same whether you go for one week or for many weeks. The same goes for the time you put into planning your trip and organising your affairs back home.
And for many people it’s long enough to have had their fill of travelling for the moment. My philosophy is you should try to want what you’re going to get. It’s better to be ready to come home than to tear yourself away from something you weren’t finished with. Travel is tiring, often you’re sick or had enough of your companions. Then you get to fly home to familiarity, ease, and your own comfortable bed. It’s almost like a holiday all over again.
How much should I plan before I leave?
Lock everything down before leaving home, or just turn up and wing it? I’ve done both and neither is intrinsically better. I suggest leaning towards your natural inclination. If you’re inherently a planner then you’ll probably enjoy the process of planning. You’ll feel more comfortable too. But if you need to force yourself to plan then don’t expect to pull it off without a hitch. There’ll be things you thought you had organised but hadn’t, bookings for the wrong days, transport connections that are impossible to make etc.
Planning maximises what you can see and do. It makes travel cheaper. It saves time when you’re on the road. Shorter trips benefit most from more planning. Yet you still want flexibility. So how can you find a compromise between these two conflicting motivations?
Consider having a plan but only booking those parts that can vary a lot in price, or become unavailable. Plane flights, concert tickets, accommodation in peak times/locations etc. In between, pencil in destinations and maybe one or two accommodation options. If things go as expected then great, you have your plan worked out. If not then you have the flexibility to adapt, but you still know where you’ll need to be in a week or however long.
But what if a great opportunity arises that clashes with the bookings you made? Well if it’s that great then usually the cost to change the booking won’t matter. Which also makes for a good way of determining priorities.
Don’t try to fit too much in, both during the day and across days. It’s tempting – there is so much to see and do, and when will you next be back here? But travel takes longer than you expect. You also need time to do the usual life stuff. I can’t remember ever wishing I had planned more for my day – spare time is always appreciated. Writing, taking photos, talking to people back home, catching up on sleep, planning upcoming stuff, or just doing nothing. There is always a myriad of ways to fill in time.
A lot of the happiness from travel is in its anticipation. The further in advance you plan and book your trip, the more enjoyment you get through pleasant anticipation.
This also tallies well with the lowest-cost time to buy your tickets. As the chart below illustrates, the cheapest time to buy is on average around two months before your flight. You might get lucky at the last moment. But don’t bet on it.
Perhaps more surprisingly, early isn’t necessarily better. An exception are sale fares, the type occasionally advertised far in advance. And which seem to sell out almost immediately.
As an average, the chart above won’t necessarily apply to the flights you’re looking at. If you want to read up, including about the many caveats that apply, see the full article. For equivalent info on European train tickets, see Loco2’s infographics.
Personally I use Skyscanner for finding the best flights. It has better-than-average coverage of the discount airlines, as well as the main carriers. Often I’ll quickly double-check Kayak and the airline’s website to make sure I’m getting the lowest price. A mention goes to Google Flights as well. I’ve only had a brief play with it, but one plus is that it searches very fast.
Seatguru helps to avoid choosing a dud seat for the flight. It can pay off particularly for long haul flights, where there is surprising variation in seat comfort. This variation is not only between different airlines. Even the one airline can have multiple seat configurations for the same type of plane. A more premium airline will not necessarily be more comfortable than a discount airline for your particular flight.
For any trip that includes train travel, The Man in Seat Sixty-One; should be your first stop. For times, connections, and bookings, Loco2 is easier than dealing with the website of individual rail companies in Europe.
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Read next: Your trip is booked. What to take? Three considerations are waiting for you in Travel Tips #2: Packing
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